Hidden Croatia is just the Med-icine
Nestled beneath the foothills on the southern tip of Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, you’ll find modern bars, pavement cafés and boutiques sit happily among ancient Roman ruins. Pula is a bustling hub of activity, framed by Amphitheatres, Arcs and theatre remains. Bursting with awe-inspiring historical philosophy and culture, the city is abundant with Roman architecture and artefacts. The Pula Arena is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world and it is the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia. Once the site of gladiator fights and spotted recently in Game of Thrones, it was built in the first century AD during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, at the same time as the magnificent Colosseum in Rome. Plus, it is believed that the Amphitheatre once seated about 20,000 spectators.
In true holiday fashion I took the day at a leisurely pace, taking in the scenery and clambering over remains between numerous café breaks. It was the ideal location to get away from a busy week back home and relax in the sun. I wanted to see as much as possible, but also have time to people watch whilst sipping on local wine, which is cheap and delicious. Pula is a vast city, some 31 miles from side to side, so it’s hard to see it all in one day. However like all the best finds, I stumbled upon one of the most beautiful churches hidden away from the crowd on a hill between the Forum and the upper circular street. The Monastic complex dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi was built in the 14th century, with its spectacular Romanesque style and Gothic ornaments. What’s more, upon entering the beautifully constructed Monastery a soothing tenor greeted us with his echoing tones bouncing throughout the building, a calming a peaceful escape from the busy streets of Pula. Pula is a must-see city, but 30 degree heat burning down, it was time to head to the coast check out the spectacular coastline and enjoy some cool sea air.
Forget Split and Dubrovnik, both writhing with tourists and gap year adventurers, Medulin, the Southern Istrian town, north Croatia, is a beautiful coastal settlement. Expect crystal, glistening waters, laid back nature, music-infused nightlife and just a 15-minute drive from Pula. I wanted to holiday on a budget so I chose to base myself in a beautiful villa apartment overlooking the coast which neighboured a quaint church (this would turn out to be my point of recognition when clambering the five minute hill walk late at night). The old fishing town is adorned with boats and ancient ruins, much like its bordering Istrian towns. Its lucrative seafood trade allows for plates piled high with delicious shellfish, fish and even shark! If that’s not enough (and it wasn’t for me) you can hire a boat and head off to find your own slice of paradise along the tip of the Istrian coast. Don’t worry, you don’t have to have your Captain’s license – any adult can hire a boat – and it’s only 400,000 Croatian Kuna (around £40). You can rent one from many tourist advice points dotted around the harbour for a truly fantastic and unforgettable adventure on the cheap! I drove the boat towards the tip of the triangular peninsula, anchored and enjoyed a picnic lunch on a secluded cove. Then with the midday sun behind me, I took a walk through Camp Kamenjak and its beautiful nature reserve. Swimming and sunbathing in the area of this protected landscape felt as though I was holidaying in my own private tropical garden. Covering an area of approximately 404 hectares and surrounded by 30km of coastline, dotted with numerous coves and miniature beaches, Lonely Planet includes Kamenjak on the list of the most secluded beaches in the world. Kamenjak is frequently ranked as one of the most private spots in the Mediterranean too. Once at the top, the views were outstanding, you can see for miles from the romantic point – another breathtaking experience for less than a cheeky Nandos! But don’t worry, if the idea of a self-sailed boat trip puts more than the wind in your sails, there are plenty of quiet beaches and coves just a five minute walk from the harbour – I would avoid the only sandy beach, as this is packed with tourists and children making it difficult to find a spot.
Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to eat and watch the sun set, get seated at Octopus on the beach at Medulin. The restaurant has a great location on the promenade with outdoor seating underneath a plant canopy and sea views. It’s a great option for a quick bite to eat for lunch with a cold beer or for a relaxed dinner. Plus, the extensive fresh seafood menu is fantastic with plenty of delicacies to try, including shark and octopus itself which were both delicious! But, if it’s just a beer or a cocktail you’re after, the harbour is lined with bars all beckoning for your custom and occasionally offering a free shot of Croatian liquor. Make your way to The Roof, situated at the start of the harbour and perched on top of what looks like a strip club. This bar is a little pricier, but you’ll get a spectacular view of the coast and town, while sipping on a foot-long, Long Island Ice Tea – bliss.
The total coast of my week-long stay in paradise came in at just £350 for two (minus the spending money). Once you land in Croatia you won’t feel exploited or strapped for cash, as many things are amazingly cheap, especially if you decide to go self-catered (which I did). A wonderful destination that I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a picture perfect holiday without spending all their savings – I’m already planning my return.
Where we bunked:
Flights direct from London Gatwick to Pula, on Passport Stamps’ favourite Norwegian Airways, from £48 return and take approximately 2hr 30min. You can also fly direct to Pula from Manchester Airport.
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